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Local SEO Strategies to Improve Your Bank's Website Performance

As a bank marketer, you face several challenges when trying to improve your website’s rankings in Google’s search results. Do you even know who your true competitors are? Does your site stand out in the sea of blue links? How do you create and maintain a site that adapts for dozens of devices? How do you keep up with changes in the search results for your market?

We answer these questions, and more, in this report:

Have you tried following all of the “best practices” with nothing to show for it? Best practices, when executed without a strategy, are not specific enough for you to remain competitive. Our tried-and-true approach to local SEO for banks works because we use data to customize strategies for each client and measure the business impact of our recommendations.

To understand the SEO challenges and opportunities for bank marketers in 2021, we compared Google’s top 20 search engine results from the largest 314 U.S. markets for a variety of searches on desktop and mobile devices. Our data set includes over 50,000 individual search results from over 1,800 websites. Just over half of the 12,000 top-ranking web pages that we discovered (6,674) belong to banks and credit unions. The other half of search results are cluttered by other types of sites that compete for your customers’ attention: online directories, social media sites, news articles, government entities, job boards, and more.

Once we identified the pages in Google’s search results that belong to banks, we mimicked Google’s web crawler to better understand what top-ranking bank websites have in common. The information in this report is extremely useful in aggregate. However, every market has a unique set of competitors for a limited number of organic search rankings.

Let's look at an example from Richmond, VA

Our hometown of Richmond, VA is serviced by dozens of banks and credit unions that compete for the roughly 880 searches per month for “banks in Richmond, VA” and related keywords. With such a specific search keyword, one might assume a bank website would earn the top Google search result. However, only 50% of the top Google search results belong to financial institutions.

The top 4 positions are currently occupied by online directories (WalletHub.com, BranchSpot.com, and BankLocal.info) and reviews sites (Yelp.com). The first bank website (VillageBank.com) doesn’t appear until the 5th position.

Search results change constantly as shown in the chart on the right of the report. It’s easy to see the fluctuation in search results from January 2021 compared to February 2020 (pre-COVID). Of the top 10 sites in 2020, 4 have improved their rankings, 4 have gotten worse, and 2 no longer rank on the first page of Google.

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Changes in search behaviors that affect your bank’s website

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed how customers search for and engage with local banks. A recent report by McKinsey & Company highlights the acceleration of digital banking preferences in nearly every age category. Additionally, global economic uncertainty is pushing consumers to seek alternatives to their current bank while physical branches were largely closed or less accessible. As bank branches reopened, customers returned to their normal search patterns but the competitive landscape has evolved.

Going forward, we expect to see more consumer reliance on digital banking while local branches play an important role in supporting customer relationships that can’t be completely replaced by apps and AI-driven chat bots.

Consumers overwhelmingly prefer local results when searching for banks

Our assessment includes a detailed breakdown of the most common keywords that consumers use when searching for banks and financial products or services. This is a starting point for uncovering and prioritizing SEO opportunities. Tracking rankings, traffic, and conversions from these keywords over time is the best way to understand if your SEO strategy is getting the results you expect.

While it may be tempting to try to rank your bank’s website for “open a checking account” or another similarly competitive keyword, remember that most of the search volume is local in nature. Consider the sheer volume of searches for “banks near me” (550,000 per month nationwide) compared to “open a checking account” (3,600 per month nationwide).

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Source: SEMRush

Take the next step: Most searches for banks have local intent. Focus your SEO efforts on attracting potential customers in your own backyard before trying to compete outside your market.

Request your free market report today to get details on your local and national competitors.

60% of Google searches are mobile

More than half of all searches on Google are conducted on smartphones. Consumer expectations have evolved to the point where Google now crawls websites with a “mobile first” mindset in an effort to reward sites that offer a better user experience on all screen sizes.

The share of search traffic from mobile devices has increased significantly in the last 5 years and is expected to continue to grow. Bank marketers that ignore mobile users in their SEO strategies are missing valuable opportunities to attract new customers from smartphones and retain existing customers with intuitive, fast mobile experiences.

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Source: Statista

Take the next step: Ensure your mobile site loads as quickly as possible. Check your mobile website’s Performance Scores for free on Google’s Pagespeed Insights tool. Simply enter your URL to see Google’s assessment of your website’s performance against mobile site averages and best practices.

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The plateau in searches for “banks near me”

Searches for “banks near me” have risen over 300% since 2015 and reached an all time high in late 2019. Adding “near me” to a search term implies a strong intent to visit a bank branch in the near future.

Search volume for “banks near me” began to level off even before COVID-19 closed bank lobbies and encouraged more customers to seek digital banking options. This follows larger trends in search behaviors as consumers drop the “near me” search modifiers with the understanding that Google and other search engines automatically show the most relevant results based on the physical location of the searcher.

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Source: Google Trends

Take the next step: You don't need to optimize towards "near me" as part of your ongoing strategy, but neglect local tactics at your peril. This could include auditing your map listings, local directories, Google My Business, and more. Additionally, there's likely pent up demand for local banking services that will accelerate as the pandemic economy evolves. If ranking well for these queries doesn't seem like a huge opportunity now, it's the perfect time to prep your site and listings for a rebound later this year.

A peak in “online banking” keywords early in the COVID-19 period

Searches for keywords related to “online banking” continue to decline compared to their 2016 highs. This is not due to a decline in interest in online banking services, but rather an indication that consumers expect online banking to be part of any financial institution’s offerings and thus don’t necessarily need to be sought separately.

A sharp spike in April of 2020 shows a short-lived doubling of search volume for “online banking” keywords as consumers prepared for economic uncertainty and ensured they had digital access to existing accounts.

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Source: Google Trends

Take the next step: Don’t overhype “online banking services” as a key differentiator in your marketing messages. Present customers with an integrated banking experience that blends online and offline services seamlessly so they can transact on their own terms.

Evolving competition in search results requires new ways of thinking about SEO

It is no longer possible to develop a single SEO strategy that covers the full spectrum of keywords, device types, and competitors. Bank marketers must take a multi-pronged approach to SEO in order to gain ground on the competition. These customized strategies must take local market conditions and each bank’s strengths and weaknesses into account.

Search results for banking keywords include more than banks

Banks face a wide variety of competitors in search results and it’s not just other banks. Google’s results are also populated by online directories, social media sites, reviews sites, job boards, government websites, and more. All of these sites have a financial interest in gaining the top organic search rankings and many bank marketers fail to recognize them as competitors. Even if these other sites aren’t competing for deposits, they are competing for eyeballs in search results and siphoning traffic away from bank websites.

Want to see the report for your market-specific competitors and opportunities? Request a breakout for your market now!

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Source: STAT/Moz

When searching on a desktop computer, 67% of Google search results belong to financial institutions. Another 20% of search results return a directory website such as YellowPages.com or local business directories. Reviews sites (e.g.Yelp.com) account for roughly 7% of search results.

Banks face even tougher competition on smartphones where they only appear in about half of the top search results. Google’s own products compete for visibility in the form of local search results (the “local pack”), suggested searches (“people also ask”), ads, and other types of Google-curated content. Each of these pushes bank websites further down the page which often requires scrolling through multiple screens on smartphones and decreases the number of customers that may click through.

Take the next step: Directories and reviews sites are competitors in search results but also create additional opportunities for visibility.

Request your local market report to find business directories and reviews sites that rank well in your market. Once you have a list, submit updated information for each of your branches. At a minimum, set up a monthly reminder to check your business listings and reviews on popular sites. You can use reviews management software to solicit reviews from your existing customers and monitoring tools to alert you to negative feedback for prompt resolution.

Banks with physical branches have an advantage in local search, for now

Search results from over 300 geographic markets show us how Google favors bricks and mortar branches over digital banks and financial technology (fintech) companies in local search results. Digital-only banks and fintechs currently do not rank well for searches with local intent but they are more prominent and competitive in searches without a local modifier such as “open a checking account” or “high-yield savings accounts.” Helping your bank stand out in local results will help fend off advances from digital-only institutions.

Take the next step: To capitalize on your physical presence, claim and update your business listings in Google Maps, Apple Maps, Bing Maps, and other local search engines as part of a local SEO strategy. Once you have verified ownership of your business listings, you can update the lobby hours, provide updates on your COVID-19 policies, feature testimonials and reviews, share pictures of your branch, and more.

Local and regional banks have advantages over the “big banks”

Having more branches across a larger geographic footprint does not guarantee a bank’s success in local search results. In fact, our analysis showed that local and regional banks actually ranked better in their home markets than national competitors.

While PNC, US Bank, Suntrust/Truist, Bank of America, Wells Fargo, and other “big banks” have tremendous resources, they don’t have an inherent advantage in Google rankings for local searches. In our experience, local and regional banks:

  • Create more relevant content about their home markets throughout their entire websites, not just on a single page for a specific branch.

  • Form deeper community relationships that result in more local news coverage and links from local directories, both of which can positively influence Google’s rankings.

  • Often have names and web addresses that include their city and/or state names, further increasing their local relevance.

Take the next step: Ensure your website content emphasizes your local connections and includes surrounding areas. Foster deeper community relationships and seek more coverage from the local press. Where possible, solicit links to your bank’s website from your local partners, vendors, and associations.

Websites are getting faster and more secure

Google has repeatedly mentioned the importance of fast, secure websites and have recently begun rewarding compliant sites with better search rankings. Google’s Lighthouse tools show a “Performance Score” for individual web pages on a scale from 0-100 as a measure of the page’s overall speed and adoption of best practices.

All else being equal, sites with higher Performance Scores rank better than sites with lower Performance Scores because they tend to provide better user experiences with faster loading times and require less bandwidth.

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Source: STAT/Moz and Google Lighthouse

Take the next step: Check your website’s Performance Scores for free on Google’s Lighthouse tool. Simply enter your URL to see Google’s assessment of your website’s performance.

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How do you stack up against your competition?

Have questions about your bank’s website performance? We can drill down to your specific market and provide a more detailed report of your local organic search rankings, helping you understand where your bank fits in.